Things look up for Giants, Angels after big showings
Dodgers, O's, Bucs fall short of making statements; AL Central showdown on deck
3 UpSan Francisco The Giants have done what they need to do, and they have gotten a big lift from Barry Zito, who is in the sixth year of his seven-year mega deal. The Giants took two of three from the Dodgers during the weekend, expanding their lead in the NL West to 5 1/2 games, and on Monday they embark on 19 consecutive games against the bottom-feeders in the NL West (Colorado, Arizona and San Diego) before a season-ending series at Dodger Stadium. The Giants are 21-14 against the three. Zito started the shutout victory in the final game with the Dodgers -- the Giants' NL-leading 14th blanking and fifth against the Dodgers. Zito is 10-1 when the Giants have scored four or more runs when he starts, and the Giants have won his last seven starts. The Giants have begun to get clutch hits. They had a .225 average with runners in scoring position in the , 15th among the 16 NL teams. In the second half, however, they have hit .309, tops among all 30 Major League teams with runners in scoring position. Los Angeles Angels The report of the Angels' demise was premature. They have played themselves back into the postseason battle by winning 15 of their last 18 games, but now they have to go up against the hottest team in baseball the next four nights -- the Oakland A's. After the A's, the Angels travel to Kansas City for three games next weekend, and then have back-to-back series against Texas and the Chicago White Sox. The Angels bullpen has been superb, allowing one earned run in its last 28 1/3 innings, and Zack Greinke has won his last four starts in becoming the pitcher the Angels were looking for when they mortgaged their farm system to acquire him from Milwaukee. Jered Weaver, scratched from a start in the Angels game against Detroit on Friday because of biceps tendinitis, played catch in the outfield on Sunday and felt so good he will have a bullpen session Monday with the idea he could start against Oakland on Wednesday. The A's are dealing with the emotions of starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy being hit in the side of his head by a line drive, which has Oakland calling on four rookies in the starting rotation. The A's are on a roll. They have nine in a row on the road for the first time since 2002 when a nine-game road winning streak was a part of a club-record 20 wins in a row. A's are trailing the Rangers by 3 1/2 games in the AL West, but have a 2 1/2 game lead on Tampa Bay, which is in third place in the Wild Card race. Chicago White Sox/Detroit Tigers The White Sox have caught a break. They have lost six of their last nine, but they still have a two-game lead on second-place Detroit in the AL Central. But then the Tigers have only four wins in that stretch, and three of them came against the White Sox. Chicago gets a final shot to slow the Tigers starting tonight, at U.S. Cellular Park. It's a four-game series, the final time they meet this season. The Tigers have had their way so far, winning 10 of 14 games between the two teams, including the last seven matchups. Detroit, however, has lost five of six since the sweep of the White Sox. How important is the series to the Tigers? Well, with the Angles leading, 6-1, Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled starter Justin Verlander, ending his streak of starts with at least 100 pitches at 80 games, but giving him a little extra rest for his Thursday challenge with the Tigers. 3 Down Los Angeles Dodgers The Dodgers tried to provide a spark with the mega-buck waiver claim from Boston, but it hasn't worked. Since Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez showed up on Aug. 25, the Dodgers are 6-8 and have gone from two games out of the NL West race to 5 1/2 out. They also have fallen into third place in the battle for an NL Wild Card spot, dropping to 1 1/2 games behind second Wild Card leader St. Louis, and 5 1/2 games back of leader Atlanta. And it's about to get more challenging. They play postseason contenders in 13 of their final 21 games, starting with a 10-day challenge that starts next weekend with four games against St. Louis, and then three at Washington and Cincinnati. Rotation ace Clayton Kershaw was skipped from his scheduled start on Sunday in the Giants finale because of hip soreness that required a shot on Saturday. The hope is he can return to the rotation Tuesday at Arizona. Gonzalez has hit .242 with one home run and 10 RBI in 62 at-bats with the Dodgers, and Beckett is 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA. Joe Blanton, who the Dodgers picked up from Philadelphia, is only 1-4 with a 6.25 ERA in seven starts, including suffering the loss when he had to step in for Kershaw against the Giants. And as if Kershaw getting a pain injection in his hip isn't concern enough, Matt Kemp, continues to have problems with his shoulder from his collision with the fence at Coors Field two weeks ago. Baltimore The Orioles are still a major postseason factor. They trialing the New York Yankees by a game in the AL East, and are a game ahead of Tampa and the Angels in the battle for the second AL Wild Card. They, however, came up short of making a statement the past weekend, splitting four games with the Yankees at Camden Yards. And now they have back-to-back series against Tampa and Oakland. The Rays are heating up again. They have won two of three in each of their last three road series, which came against the Orioles, Colorado and New York Yankees. And after spending the week days playing the Orioles, the Rays head to Yankee Stadium for the weekend. The Yankees have a three-game visit to Boston before hosting Tampa Bay next weekend. And they got Curtis Granderson percolating on Sunday. Called on to pinch-hit, he delivered his 35th home run and then picked up two more hits. Pittsburgh The Pirates have faded from the NL Central race, trailing Cincinnati by 11 games. But they are clinging to hopes in the NL Wild Card hunt, and they are losing their grip. How bad are things right now? Well, the Pirates were swept at home during the weekend by the hapless Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are 6-20 on the road since the All-Star Break, and five of those wins have been at the expense of the Pirates. The Cubs sweep, in fact, was their first on the road since Aug. 1-4, 2010m against, you guessed it, Pittsburgh. So what do the Pirates face now? Would you believe three games at NL Central-leading Cincinnati? It's not a welcome thought for a team that not only scored just five runs in being swept by the last-place Cubs at PNC Park, but also were swept by San Diego, who's sitting in fourth place in the NL West, at the end of August. Suddenly even the Pirates to end two decades of losing records is in question. They have gone from 16 games over the break-even mark on Aug. 1 to just five games better than .500.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.